When you hear a group described as being blood brothers, having a hierarchical structure and codes of conduct, and is illegally engaged in drug trafficking, extortion, fraud, gambling, prostitution, money laundering, and gang violence, you immediately think what's being described is the American Mafia. But in Hong Kong, this description applies to what's called the Triad, and since the rise of the Communists in China in 1949, Hong Kong has been the main home of Triad gangs.
It's estimated that 100,000 members of the Triad are operating in Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post reported in February 2017.
Chance of Running Into Triad: Slim
Just as with the American Mafia, the Triad is prime territory for movies. So it's not surprising that thanks to John Woo and Bruce Lee, many visitors to Hong Kong expect to be arm wrestling tattooed Mafiosi as they step out of the airport. The truth is that travelers in Hong Kong would have to be extremely unlucky to encounter a member of the Triad in the city. The only way you’re likely to run into a member of the Triad in Hong Kong is if you’re doing something illegal.
Even though there are members of the Triad in Hong Kong, the chance of meeting one is no greater than meeting a would-be Tony Soprano in New Jersey or a Ronnie Kray in London. Triads were once a major problem in the city, running huge swathes of town such a Kowloon Walled City and Mong Kok.
But concerted police action has put the Triads very much on the back foot, comparatively speaking.
Visitors to Hong Kong should be wary of certain illegal activities since they happen in places where the chance of running into a member of the Triad is increased.
Illegal gambling was for a long time the bread and butter of the Triads.
Heavy police surveillance and action has seriously curtailed their activity, but illegal gambling continues to be a problem in the city. Limited gambling is legal in Hong Kong, but only through the Hong Kong Jockey Club and only on certain sports.
Buying Copies of Luxury Goods
Hong Kong itself and especially markets like those you'll find in the Mong Kok area are a haven for sellers of copies of expensive goods. Triads are often involved in the smuggling of these goods into Hong Kong. Selling these counterfeit luxury goods is often seen as a victimless crime, but of course, it won't feel like that if you think you've bought a Rolex watch and it turns out to be a fake. Handbags and watches are favorites for copy artists, who produce fake Guccis and Pradas, among many other knock-offs. It's likely that if you buy one of these fakes that some of your cash will end up the hands of the Triads.
Prostitution is the activity in which Western tourists are most likely to find themselves tangled up with Triads. Prostitution itself is legal in Hong Kong, but many activities related to it are not, so the situation gets pretty muddy. Legal or not, much of the racket is run by the Triads, and it's rife with people smuggling and violence.